Overview

The Nativity, one of Petrus Christus' most important devotional paintings, emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Christ's coming and shows the scene as part of a chain of events in the story of the Fall and Redemption of humankind. In the foreground, a sculpted archway displays scenes of the Fall as described in Genesis. Below Adam and Eve, Atlas-like figures symbolize humanity burdened by Original Sin. The artist's depiction of the scene is like an act from a mystery or Passion play, the figures clothed in simple Flemish costume and provided with a landscape backdrop of what, at first, appears to be a Netherlandish town. However, with its two domed buildings, it would be understood as Jerusalem, the scene of the events of Christ's Passion.

Christus depicted not only the historical moment of Jesus' birth but also the enactment of the first Mass, an image deriving in part from the revelation of Saint Bridget, which had become the conventional visualization of the Nativity by the early fifteenth century. The angels wear eucharistic vestments of the subministers of the Mass, though none wears the chasuble worn by the principal celebrant, suggesting that Christ himself is here both priest and sacrifice.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Señora O. Yturbe, Madrid.[1] (Franz M. Zatzenstein, Berlin); [2] sold 1930 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York); purchased 15 December 1936 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[3] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1994
Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, no. 17, repro.

Bibliography

1924
Friedländer, Max J. Die altniederländische Malerei 14 vols. 1924-1937. Leiden, 1937: 14:78-79, pl. Nachtrag 3. (English ed., 14 vols., 1967-1976. Leiden, 1967: 2:104, 110, pl. 102.)
1925
Friedländer, Max J. "Neues über Petrus Christus." Der Kunstwanderer 7 (May 1925): 297.
1932
Baldass, Ludwig. "Die Entwicklung des Dirk Bouts. Eine Stilgeschichtliche Untersuchung." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien N. F. 6 (1932): 114
1937
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: repro. opposite p. 33.
1937
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): 10, repro. 11.
1937
Schöne, Wolfgang, "Über einige altniederländische Bilder, vor allem in Spanien." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) 58 (1937): 159.
1938
Schöne, Wolfgang. Dieric Bouts und seine Schule. Berlin and Leipzig, 1938: 23-24, 28, 55-56.
1938
Vaughan, Malcolm. "Painting in the Age of Faith." Parnassus 10, no. 7 (1938): repro 2.
1939
Held, Julius S. Review of Die altniederländische Malerei by Max J. Friedländer. In Art in America 27 (1939): 88.
1941
De Tolnay, Charles. "Flemish Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." Magazine of Art 34 (1941): 179-181, figs. 7-9.
1941
Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 177, repro.
1941
Einem, Herbert von. "Entwicklungsfragen bei Hugo van der Goes." Das Werk des Künstlers 2 (1941-1942): 167.
1941
Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): 11, repro. 12.
1941
_Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 39-40, no. 40Gift of Gary S. Davis.
1942
_Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 37.
1942
Schapiro, Meyer. "Cain's Jaw-Bone that Did the First Murder." Art Bulletin 24, no. 3 (September 1942): 208.
1946
Friedländer, Max J. "The Death of the Virgin by Petrus Christus." The Burlington Magazine 88 (1946): 159.
1948
Puyvelde, Leo van. The Flemish Primitives. New York, 1948: 27, pl. 51.
1949
_Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 53, repro.
1952
Baldass, Ludwig. Jan van Eyck. London, 1952: 98.
1952
Bazin, Germain. "Petrus Christus et les rapports entre l'Italie et la Flandre au milieu du XVe siècle." La Revue des Arts 2 (1952): 199-202.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 88, color repro.
1953
Panofsky Erwin. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1953: 1:203, 311-315, 321, 333; 489-490, 2:pl. 249, fig. 402.
1957
Bruyn, Josua. Van Eyck Problemen: De Levensbron. Utrech, 1957: 107-108.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 7, repro. fig 3, pl. 105, 131
1960
Broadley Hugh T. Flemish Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 5 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 18-19, color repro.
1960
Snyder, James E. "The Early Haarlem School of Painting: I. Ouwater and the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl." The Art Bulletin 42, no. 1 (March 1960): 44, fig. 5.
1960
_The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 9.
1960
Wilenski, R. H. Flemish Painters, 1430-1830. 2 vols. New York, 1960: 1:33, 524, 686, pl. 30.
1961
Birkmeyer, Karl M. "The Arch Motif in Netherlandish Painting of the Fifteenth Century: A Study in Changing Religious Imagery." Art Bulletin 43, no. 2 (June 1961): 103-109, fig. 25.
1962
Birkmeyer, Karl M. "Notes on the Two Earliest Paintings by Rogier van der Weyden." Art Bulletin 44, no. 4 (December 1962): 331.
1962
Philippot, Paul. "La fin du XVe siècle et les origines d'une nouvelle conception de l'image dans la peinture des Pays-Bas." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique 11 (1962): 9-10.
1962
Steefel, Lawrence D., Jr. "An Unnoticed Detail in Petrus Christus' Nativity at the National Gallery, Washington." The Art Bulletin 44 (1962): 237-238.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 98, repro.
1964
Gaya Nuño, Juan Antonio. Pintura europea perdida por España de Van Eyck a Tiépolo. Madrid, 1964: 22, no. 15.
1965
Châtelet, Albert. "Sur un jugement dernier de Dieric Bouts." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 16 (1965): 37.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 27.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:76-77, color repro.
1966
Schiller, Gertrud. Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst. 6 vols. Gütersloh, 1966-1990: 1:91, 93, 217, 322, fig. 202. (In English language edition, 2 vols., 1971: 1:82, 198, fig. 202.)
1968
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 129-130, 134, fig. 151.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 20, no. 40, repro.
1968
Jongh, E. de. "Speculaties over Jan Gossaerts Lucas-madonna in Praag." Bulletin Museum Boymans-van Beuningen 19 (1968): 52-53.
1968
Ward, John L. "A New Look at the Friedsam Annunciation." The Art Bulletin 50 no. 2 (June 1968): 186-187.
1968
Whinney, Margaret. Early Flemish Painting. New York and Washington, 1968: 69, 151, pl. 37.
1969
Blum, Shirley Neilsen. Early Netherlandish Triptychs. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969: 121-122.
1970
Gellman, Lola B. "The `Death of the Virgin' by Petrus Christus: An Altar-piece Reconstructed." The Burlington Magazine 112 (1970): 147.
1970
Koch, Robert A. Review of Northern Painting by Charles Cuttler. In The Art Bulletin 52 (1970): 204.
1971
Sterling, Charles. "Observations on Petrus Christus." The Art Bulletin 53 no. 1 (March 1971): 19, figs. 37, 39.
1972
Dogaer, Georges. "Miniature flamande vers 1475-1485." Scriptorium 26 (1972): 104.
1972
Schabacker, Peter H. Review of Rogier van der Weyden by Martin Davies. In The Art Quarterly 35 (1972): 423.
1972
Schabacker, Peter H. "Saint Eloy: Problems of Provenance, Sources and Meaning." The Art Quarterly 35 (1972): 114.
1974
Schabacker, Peter H. Petrus Christus. Utrech, 1974: 25, 27, 29, 34, 43-46, 48, 50, 58, 60-61, 67-69, 74, 108, 114, 118, cat. no. 19, fig. 19.
1975
Bruyn, Josua. Review of Petrus Christus by Peter H. Schabacker. In Oud Holland 89 (1975): 71-72.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 68, repro. 69.
1975
Lane, Barbara G. "`Ecce Panis Angelorum': The Manger as Altar in Hugo's Berlin Nativity." The Art Bulletin 57 (1975): 480, 484-485, fig. 15.
1975
Pächt, Otto, and Ulrike Jenni. Die illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliotek, Holländische Schule. Vienna, 1975: 65.
1975
Upton, Joel M. "Devotional Imagery and Style in the Washington Nativity, by Petrus Christus." Studies in the History of Art 7 (1975): 49-79, figs. 1, 8-9, 17-18, 22-23.
1976
Lane, Barbara G. Letter to the Editor. Art Bulletin 58 no. 4 (December 1976): 641.
1977
Decker, Bernhard. "Zur geschichtlichen Dimension in Michael Pachers Altären von Gries und St. Wolfgang." Städel-Jahrbuch N.F. 6 (1977): 309, 318.
1978
Panhans-Bühler, Ursula. Eklektizismus und Originalität im Werk des Petrus Christus. Vienna, 1978: 71, 76, 78-79, fig. 52.
1979
Collier, James M. "The Kansas City Petrus Christus: Its Importance and Dating." The Nelson Gallery and the Atkins Museum Bulletin 5 no. 5 (September, 1979): 34.
1980
Châtelet, Albert. Early Dutch Painting: Painting in the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century. New York, 1980: 90, 184.
1981
Grosshans, Rainald. "Rogier van der Weyden: Der Marienaltar aus der Kartause Miraflores." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) N.F. 23 (1981): 61, 65, 94.
1984
Eisler, Colin T. "A Nativity Signed PETRUS XPI ME FECIT 1452." In Album Amicorum Herman Liebaers. Brussels, 1984: 451-469, fig. 2.
1984
Lane, Barbara G. The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting. New York, 1984: 59, fig. 37.
1984
Pieper, Paul. "Petrus Christus, Verkündigung und Anbetung des Kindes." Pantheon 42 (1984): 120-122, fig. 6.
1984
Sterling, Charles. "A la recherche des oeuvres de Zanetto Bugatto: une nouvelle piste." In Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri. 2 vols. Milan, 1984: 1:177.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 122, no. 107, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 88, repro.
1986
Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 41-49, color repro. 43.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 38, repro.
1998
Esch, Anke. "Het boogmotief bij der Vlaamse primitieven: Een synthese." In Dirk Bourts (ca. 1410-1475), een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Exh. cat. Leuven 1998. Leuven, 1998: 174-175, color fig. 8.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 44-45, no. 30, color repro.
2005
Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Revised by Larry Silver and Henry Luttikhuizen. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 142-143, col. fig. 7.5.

Technical Summary

Infrared reflectography reveals what appears to be a brush underdrawing for the main figural group. The contours of the figures and of drapery folds are defined by a long contour line which is sometimes repeated. Widely spaced parallel hatching strokes indicate areas of shadow. The wings of the two angels to the left of the Virgin were painted over the underdrawn design of the Virgin's robe; the presumed underdrawing elsewhere in her robe is obscured by overpaint. No underdrawing was made visible in the background or architecture.

Related Works

Related Resources

  • Event Type
    Event Name
    March 1–June 1
    Mon, Tues, and Wed at 1:00
    March 5, 2012 at 2:00
    March 7, 2012 at 4:00
    East Building, Auditorium
    Name of docent
    image:
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum
    60 minutes
    Registration for this event begins on April 1, 2012 at noon.
    Download the program notes (100k)
  • Self-Guided Tour
    Italian Collection
    image:
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum